Monday, January 26, 2015

How To Work Effectively With A Mentor

by Stephanie Morrill

Stephanie writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com. Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series (Revell) and the Ellie Sweet books (Playlist). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website including the free novella, Throwing Stones.

I've never had a writing mentor. I wouldn't be opposed to it. Quite the opposite, really. But the right person/situation has never presented itself.



In John Maxwell's book The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth, I came across his views on how the mentoring relationship should work, and I thought this was such a smart
blueprint.

When you're looking for someone to mentor you, he suggests trying to find someone who is two or three steps ahead of you on the same track. For example, I'm sure I could benefit from Stephen King mentoring me. He, however, is about a thousand steps ahead of me in the business. So much of his career wouldn't apply to where I am now, and for that reason, I could likely benefit more from having a mentor who is a YA writer with a couple bestselling novels. Make sense?

These are the traits Maxwell suggests we look for in mentors:

  • A worthy example: Is this someone you want to be like?
  • Availability: Do they have time for you? Or is their schedule already too loaded down?
  • Proven experience: Can they actually do what it is you're trying to learn? If I'm wanting to be a bestselling novelist, then I need a bestselling novelist to mentor me on how to accomplish this.
  • Wisdom
  • Willingness to be supportive: Do they have your best interest at heart?
  • Coaching skills: Not everyone is cut out to be a teacher. I had two friends in high school who were brilliant. If I needed homework help, one of them was happy to sit down with me and try to explain how to do the assignment. The other would get very annoyed and impatient after about two questions. You need someone who has the heart of a teacher.
After someone has agreed to mentor you, this is the approach Maxwell suggests for meeting with them:
  1. Ask them 3-5 questions.
  2. Apply their answers to your situation.
  3. Don't ask for another meeting until you've done what they suggested.
  4. Start your next meeting by talking about how you applied their advice.
  5. Repeat

I like how this is so respectful of everybody's time. Have you ever had a friend who asked for your advice with how to handle a problem, but then when you gave them advice, they only ignored it and continued to complain that things weren't getting any better? Mentoring relationships can quickly deteriorate into this if the mentee isn't following through on their part of the deal.

Or have you ever had someone who didn't bother to get to know you and your goals, but seemed to love giving you advice anyway? Using the method above where you ask specific but limited questions can help keep a long-winded mentor on track as well.

I think this action plan also addresses what a mentor is not. They're not your golden ticket. They're not your "in" with a particular editor or agent. They're not someone who is doing the work for you. They should be someone who advises you and guides you based on their experience and your desires.

How long should a mentorship last?

This varies. Maybe you're just having coffee together one time. Or maybe the person is mentoring you just for one project, a summer, or a year. This is a good thing to discuss ahead of time so that you both have similar expectations going into the relationship.

Using Maxwell's "two to three steps ahead of you on the same path" principle, who would you ask to sit and have coffee with so you could pick their brain about writing?


29 comments:

  1. Tough question... I don't have any names, but I'd look for a young person who just published their first novel and is working on a second.

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  2. Hmm...maybe Cait from the blog Paper Fury? She has an agent...that's probably a step or two ahead of me. Also, Rick Riordan, though he's quite far ahead of me. :P

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  3. I'd love to have you or Jill as my mentors, although you're probably bogged down on other projects already. ;) Plus, maybe I should look for mentors when I'm a bit further into my projects, such as when I start looking for agents. Right now I'm still editing.

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    1. Aww, thanks, Julia! I'm glad we get to connect with you here on Go Teen Writers :)

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  4. Haha, would it be weird to name names from around GTW? ;) I'm feeling too shy to do so, but let's just say there are a few regulars around here who are a couple steps ahead of me and are wonderful people. :)

    Interesting idea! I'll keep it in mind for some day I'm feeling brave...

    It would be even cooler if we could kind of list where we are in our writing journey and offer to mentor people/find others to mentor us, though. Hmmmm. I feel something to coordinate coming on!

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    1. That would be cool, Amanda... Although I'm not sure if I'd qualify as a mentor or a mentee. ;)

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    2. Love this, Amanda :) That was one of our hopes with creating the critique groups, that all of you would be able to learn from each other as well.

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  5. Jill Williamson, hands down. :P Although, she is probably more than two to three steps ahead of me. I'm still working on polishing up my novel before submitting it to agents/editors, so probably I'd want a recently-published author to chat with... Hm. I can't think of any names.

    It would be pretty cool to have a mentor though... Thanks for the post!

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  6. I have an engineering mentor, but I don't have a writing mentor. I would really love to have a published author as a mentor, but I know a lot of them are bogged down with their own work so it's difficult to find one. Still, mentors are so helpful, especially the ones that guide you down the right path and answer questions when you have them, but at the same time, let you do the work.

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    1. The letting you do the work part is key, I think. I feel similarly. I would love to have a one-on-one mentor, but it's a lot to ask of someone.

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  7. When I discovered Go Teen Writers, I felt like I'd found a few writing mentors. Maybe it isn't one-on-one specific mentoring, but the blog posts are always so helpful and everyone on here is good at giving each other constructive help when we post things like our first lines or log lines or stuff like that. I've also managed to connect with several people on here as critique partners, which has been super helpful and something that I didn't have before.

    I've also discovered that most authors are pretty cool about answering writing related questions if you send them a nice, polite email.

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  8. Jill and Stephanie, or are those too straight-forward answers? Okay, maybe the two of you are a bit too far ahead for me, but there are a few around GTW who I would love to have as mentors, even if it would just be for a one-time thing on a specific topic. Hmm..Maybe I should step out of my comfort zone for a bit, and ask them.

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    1. That's a great idea, Arlette. I've done that before, where I ask writers who are far ahead of me for counsel on a certain situation. It's gone really well.

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  9. In a way, you, Jill, and Shannon are all my mentors. I've learned a lot through this site, from your advice. And I thank you so much for that!

    But, if were to choose someone to actually sit down with me and teach me what they've learned from their experiences, it probably wouldn't be a published author. I'd pick someone with a ton of skill, who could just help me write, write well, and write constantly. And she'd have to have a lot of time on her hands because, let's face it, I'd bug her constantly.

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    1. Oh my gosh, exactly! I'd bug my mentor a lot, too!

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    2. I'm so glad you feel that way, Ally! That's one of our goals around here, is for the site to be as personal as possible.

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  10. Well, you, Jill, Shannon, and Roseanna to name a few! And if I had to choose a mentor, I'd have someone with experience in the writing and publishing industry.

    I guess I'd love to meet and talk to Alice Oseman and Amy Zhang as mentors, because they're like.... in college, they've published a book each, and their books are amazing!

    And I know this is so irrelevant but I was wondering, Stephanie, if you could do like a Writing Buddy post where all of us can meet each other, exchange emails, and become writing buddies? I've had trouble finidng decent posts online on these writing buddy programs.

    Anyway, that's all for now!

    -Andrea

    andreamariewritesstuff.blogspot.com

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    1. Hi Andrea! We did a critique group sign-up thing a while back. Did you participate in that? If not, email me if you're interested, and I could find a group to plug you into. And we also have the Go Teen Writers Facebook group where a lot of support and encouragement happens.

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    2. Thank you! And no, I haven't been here long enough to participate in that, but I will email you!

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  11. As people have said above (Good minds think alike :) I think of you and Jill and Shannon as my mentors, sort-of, since I've learned so much about writing from Go Teen Writers, and you answer specific questions in the comments. I'd love to have a one-on-one mentorship with someone someday, though they'd probably have to be someone who didn't mind long discussions, lol. Or conversely, if I had a mentor who liked to keep things short, I might learn to be conciser.

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    1. I'm so flattered you think of us that way! And your long emails (and comments) make me smile :) We're a wordy bunch around here.

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  12. I do not have an official mentor, but I learned most of what I know from observing other published writers. I look at an author's technique when I read and try to learn from it. Most of the people who have helped me don't even now that they have.

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    1. A wonderful way to learn. I'm the same way.

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  13. Stephanie, you have defiantly been a huge mentor to me. I've been very blessed to build a relationship with you! Cara Putman is another informal mentor. I would also say that while Lily J and Elizabeth L aren't very many steps ahead of me in the publishing process, I would consider them writing buddies!
    Wonderful post!

    ~Sarah Faulkner
    Inklined

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  14. Probably if I was going to choose someone not to far ahead of me.... I'd choose Laura Jackson... She isn't super popular but she has had two books published. So maybe she is a little to far ahead of me. I think it might be nice to talk with Tessa Hall also. Thank you for the post! :-)

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  15. I can't say I have an official mentor or anything, but the closest person I can think of is Robert Liparulo (even though he's dozens of steps ahead of me). I love his books, his style, and he has time to answer some of my writing questions--I even got to Skype with him for a school interview and was able to ask him a bunch of writing questions. One of the best days of my year! :)

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